Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent Was A Summer in Norway

After all that talk of not knowing when or where we'd be coming home to, we are suddenly returning to the US, job and schedule in hand. How quickly things can change. Kacy landed a one year teaching gig at Middlebury College in Vermont. I had a brief flirtation with a job in California that didn't materialize. Now it just remains to leave Europe behind, get the car and the cat across the country, and hunker down for the Vermont winter.

In preparation, I've been spending the summer in Norway. For the last month I've been living and working at a small dairy farm in the middle of Norway, on the edge of the Finnish FOrest. Helen and Hans have welcomed me into their home, fed me potatoes and moose, and taught me how to make cheese and butter and sour cream. We have plowed up potato plants with a horse, hung hay to dry on fences, chopped down small trees by hand, and pulled innumerable weekds from the fields. Not to mention milking the cows, feeding the pigs and chickens, and mucking out the cow shed. Their home is warm and welcoming and Helen is a dedicated and forgiving teacher.

The hay must be hung up to dry because it's far from certain that the sun will shine long enough to dry it on the ground. They can't use round-bailed silage here because it freezes solid in the wintertime. Of course, when the sun IS shinging, it stays up far into the night. At 10pm here, the light resembles a sunny August afternoon around 4pm in Seattle. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night can be a disorientating experience.

(This photo was taken at midnight. Can you see the moon?)

It's remarkable how much I'm reminded of Maine here. The summer growing season is brief and fecund. The days are long, the sun shines with a purpose, and the rain, when it comes, is thick and heavy in the air. Everyone seems to have a little cabin on a lake in the woods that they use in the summertime. The forests are filled with blueberry bushes (though sadly it is not yet the season). The most popular non-fiction book in Norway right now is a manual on how best to prepare and store firewood. When I went on a hike earlier I found myself following a trail of freshly laid moose poop.

This area is called the Finnish Forest, though it is on the border with Sweden and far from Finland. When times were tough in the past, Norway saw quite a lot of immigration from Finland. Many of the Fins settled in this area because the forests reminded them of home. Now many of Norways newest immigrants are coming from Iceland, though the newspapers seem to be most concerned about a 'Muslim Invasion.'

July 22nd will mark the one year anniversary of the massacre at a Democratic youth camp here in Norway last summer. I had been looking forward to seeing the memorial services, but managed to mangle up my travel planning. I'll be in northern Sweden hiking on that day. Apparently the streets of Oslo were so filled with people carrying roses in the days after the massacre, that the whole city had to shut down. My hosts here tell me that there will be large events all over the country this year. They are very proud of how their country came together to deal with the crisis.
I've been pretty impressed with this country so far too.

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